IN two conferences last week, a Malaysian statesman and an Indonesian billionaire talked about the importance of citizens having appropriate mindsets.
The statesman said Malaysia may have a better opportunity to prosper faster if young Malaysians were to break away from the mindset of entering university to earn degrees for a living to that of "entering university to be competitive".
The billionaire said to avoid the poverty trap, the poor in Indonesia and Malaysia must have a mind-set to toil and not wait for assistance. Both concluded that to achieve wealthier and more powerful nations, people have to practise entrepreneurship, punctuality and persistence.
Mindset relies on principles, which are the guiding rules for a person's behaviour based on what he is taught and experience through life. In normal circumstances, mindset is moulded by the events in one's life.
As mindsets are product of inducements, experience or constant exposure to events, so as a baby is born, its mindset is moulded by its carers as it reacts to stimuli. As the baby grows, the way it thinks becomes automatic and non-conscious. The growth of the baby's mindset would be moulded by the general practice of those around it, such as parents, siblings or maids. If a family is running a business and asks its young to help in the shop, most probably the young will grow up to run a business.
Mindset is also a habitual stimuli-response action. For example, Indonesian billionaire Chairul Tanjung reduced the audience to silence when he related how his mother sold sarong to pay the initial fee for his dentistry course and how he vowed not to ask for more money from his parents. The mother's act made him toil hard. Could Malaysian songbird Siti Nurhaliza's entrepreneurial mind-set also be because of her helping her mother sell kuih when she was in primary school?
Apart from family or parents, learning institutions can play a role in moulding the mindset of the young. Learning institutions should, however, first transform their mindsets to start producing competitive graduates, not just graduates.
Before that can happen, institutions need to change their mind-set towards examinations. Our education system emphasises on high exam scores, which are used to gauge the outcome of a person's learning ability. But these scores do not encourage entrepreneurial competitiveness.
To mould an entrepreneurial mindset, learning institutions could perhaps change the method of testing by using marks obtained in projects and examinations to using "marks from the amount of money" earned via projects as a student's benchmark of achievement. Projects like these can be conducted once a year or once in two years. If money is the "marks" for learners, it may incite their entrepreneurial mindset. This may not be applicable to all courses but they may select certain courses to run trials on a wider basis.
Earning money as marks is not widely practised. We are so accustomed to awarding marks in teaching and learning that we think it is impossible to impose "money earned" as marks. Also, some may argue that this will burden students and incite cheating. But in the traditional award of marks in examinations and thesis writing, haven't we seen forms of cheating such as plagiarism?
If a curriculum requires a student to earn a certain sum of money through his basic business venture as his marks, there will be less "should I" or "should I not" questions in his mind. Having no other choice but to pass the course, the student will pursue this requirement with determination, which is the basis of an entrepreneur's character. In this type of quest, one's mind will start exploring different situations -- either uncovering existing opportunities or opportunities which carry high risks.
Education is the key. But Asian passivity is very much a result of the way we were schooled. Our learning culture is an observance of learning traditions, which include obeying teachers and rules, answering textbook-based examinations, learning theories and writing papers after a project is completed. Out of this also emerges a defensive culture by the authority in education that students feel frightened to question for fear of drawing the latter's ire. They yield to others to avoid discord. These entities eventually stifle the development of enquiring learners.
Is it not time that teaching authorities loosen the mindset of such a coercive learning culture? Pupils, students and undergraduates should be given the freedom to raise questions, room to learn by doing and support to produce items or funds. Likewise, researchers should not just publish papers for promotion but produce or run projects to earn financial benefits. The mindset can be changed by agents or by oneself.
Megawati Omar, Academy of Language Studies, UiTM, Shah Alam, Selangor NST Home News Opinion Letters-to-the-editor25/02/2014